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Monday's OSU Practice Brings Secondary Shuffle To Forefront

Practice moved outside the Truax Center on Monday, and it really had the look and feel of game week, which, unfortunately, it isn't
Practice moved outside the Truax Center on Monday, and it really had the look and feel of game week, which, unfortunately, it isn't
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

As Oregon St. continues their 3 days a week practice schedule, with sessions beginning at 10 AM every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the month of April, more pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place.

Yesterday, starting strong safety Tyrequek Zimmerman was absent, attending class, and so we saw Micah Audiss taking many of the reps with the "1s", but also practice marked the return to the safety position of Cyril Noland-Lewis, who moved forward to linebacker during last season, after Michael Doctor's season ending injury, and problems began to accumulate with the re-occurring stinger issue with D.J. Alexander.

With both Doctor and Alexander, and his surgically repaired shoulder/neck, back to full health, as well as Jabral Johnson being a seasoned veteran, and enough freshmen on hand for a full 3-deep across the linebacker group, Noland-Lewis has been moved full-time back to safety.

It doesn't impact the base back 4 in the Oregon St. secondary, as barring injury or other significant event, Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy, both 3 year letterman seniors, will get the starts at safety. Steven Nelson is locked in at one corner, and Larry Scott seems solid at the other corner as well.

But it adds a new wrinkle to how, and who, will fill the nickel and dime roles when the Beavers go to 5 and 6 DBs. Either CBs Malcolm Marable or Dashon Hunt are candidates when an extra cover back, and especially when a speed back is needed against air it out offenses such as Oregon St. will see from teams like California and Washington St..

It's why both Steven Nelson and Sean Martin were on the field at the same time much of the time, even though on the depth chart, one was always the backup for the other.

But in red-zone situations and against more physical opponents, like USC, Utah, Stanford, and possibly Washington, depending on how much the Huskies wind up looking like Boise St. did under coach Chris Peterson, the Beavers will probably look to the safety group, as they did last year at times from the graduated Steven Christian.

Initially, the bet was this role would be filled by Audiss, but the return of Cyril-Lewis provides an intriguing new possibility.

Both Audiss and Noland-Lewis are appreciably bigger than Christian, but Noland-Lewis more closely approximates Jordan Poyer, in that he has the size and speed to be both a cover matchup against slot and crossing route receivers, yet still fill the space-eating and bracket roles of a safety.

And given Marable's short stature, it changes the equation relative to last season when defensive backs coach Rod Perry and head coach Mike Riley had Nelson and his speed and range as an option.

How the nickel and dime roles work out will be one of the key stories to watch, and one that probably won't completely shake out until well into the season come fall.

In another piece of news, the Beavers and backup transfer quarterback Luke Del Rio were advised they should know by the end of the week whether the NCAA will approve Del Rio to be eligible this fall, or if the transfer from Alabama will have to set out the season, and only become available come 2015.

Practice seemed to settle into what looked a lot like an early-week regular season practice at the start of spring ball's second week. Favorable weather that allowed practice to move out of Truax onto the Prothro fields, and take on a game preparation feel, might have helped with that.

But at the same time, position groups seem more set than many were at any time last spring, and even well into summer camp, but one thing I've noticed with the offense under new Offensive Coordinator John Garrett is the degree to which starters are selectively intermixed with newcomers, which appears to provide them a "cleaner" learning opportunity, where the learning curve of everyone else around them isn't as much of an added hurdle.

The proof of the pudding is still months away, but early appearances are that Garrett and his involved approach to all aspects of the offense has brought the teaching component of coaching to a level we haven't seen in some time.

The Football Spring Showcase, which may or may not resemble a game, takes place Saturday, May 3, at 1 PM.